When Larry James speaks, history lives.
In a presentation at the Neosho Newton County Library Monday, James shared stories and photos of some of Neosho's oldest homes.
Utilizing modern technology to share a series of photographs, James told stories about early Neosho. Those who attended not only saw photographs of some of the earliest houses in town but listened to James talk about the families who built them and their place in the pages of local history.
James began by displaying a portion of the 1882 Edwards' Historical Atlas of Newton County. The heart of the historic downtown district in Neosho, what James called 'Neosho proper’" showed a slice of the town from including the Square as well as Jefferson, Wood, Washington, and Lafayette Streets. The plat map has some businesses and homeowners listed, including a long vanished Tremont Hotel on Spring Street.
"If you're from Neosho and you think about how the land lies, you'll know people didn't build on the hills," James said. "They built on the flat part of town."
The newest photographs James shared date to the 1950s and 1930s but many were much older.
One of the first homes he spoke about is still standing on Hamilton Street, in an area once known as Hamilton Street Terrace. The two-story home on the corner of Hamilton and East McKinney originally was the Briggs home, according to James. For many years, Orville Epperson and his wife owned the home.
"You may remember that their name, Epperson, was spelled out in jonquils each spring," James said.
Until about ten years ago, James said, most of the Epperson's original furniture remained in the home.
"This is one of the oldest homes in Neosho," James said.
The photograph James shared dates to around the time of World War I and was enlarged from a 1 x 1 inch original.
James shared photos taken decades ago on Wood Street.
"Wood Street was once lined with beautiful homes," Wood said. "If you grew up here in the 1940's and 1950's, you remember. I believe there are just two (houses) left on Wood Street now."
Some of the few remaining homes on Wood now house local businesses. The former W.G. “Willy” Wills home, a long-time landmark at 312 South Wood Street, became Clark Funeral Home in 1956.
Underwood and Associates has their offices in the former Heaton Home, also on Wood Street. Warren Heaton built the Queen Anne-style home for his bride.
Heaton, according to James, was a Neosho businessman who invented the post hole digger. His last Neosho business was a wagon factory on the site of the former Neosho Nurseries on north College Street. Wagon making turned out to be his last local endeavor and wasn't a success since he founded the company in 1910, an era when automobiles were beginning to take over from the horse and buggy period.
James shared photographs of many other historic homes and others of Neosho. Some featured the homes that lined Jefferson Street that were torn down to build Sale Hospital, which has become Freeman Neosho. Others focused on the homes that still line Big Spring Hill above the park.
James shared a photo taken overlooking Neosho in 1873 in which the downtown area, which encompassed much of Neosho at the time, is visible including several landmarks. Another that James believes was taken around the same time shows the old tannery that once stood across from Big Spring Park.
Another house that has survived into the 21st century is the McKee home, located at the corner of High and Lafayette Streets. Built in 1842, the house has long been divided into apartments.
"I can't remember when this was not an apartment house," James said.
James also shared a few personal stories and photos.
James is a lifelong Neosho resident with family roots going back generations in the community. He is also a retired math teacher and a long-time member of the Newton County Historical Society. James is well known as a local historian and for his extensive collection of vintage photographs of Neosho.
James' presentation was open to the public. A group of residents from the Oak Pointe of Neosho also attended.
Each Monday, the NCCL hosts a history presentation in the community room at 1 p.m. The September event moved to the second Monday because of the Labor Day holiday.
The library is located at 201 West Spring Street in downtown Neosho.